County to Cuomo: Let us reopen before NYC

Bliss

Otsego County’s Board of Representatives will consider a resolution at its May meeting to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take into account regional differences when he declares the state ready to re-open from the coronavirus pandemic.

The board’s Administration Committee unanimously approved the idea at its meeting Thursday, April 23, which was held via Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live.

Details of the resolutions were not specified, and it will be written before the board’s meeting Wednesday, May 6, but the committee members said they did not want to wait to re-open the county until the pandemic subsides in the New York City area.

Several representatives also stated their preference that Otsego County be grouped with other local rural counties, especially neighbors Delaware, Chenango and Schoharie counties.

They said they did not want to be grouped based on the state’s economic development regions, which classify Otsego County as part of the Mohawk Valley. Tying Otsego’s future to the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District would mean relying on the pandemic to subside in Oneida County and its largest city, Utica.

Board chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, said any re-opening of Otsego County would be “slow and measured.” Bliss is not on the Administration Committee, but he was present during the meeting.

Committee member Andrew Marietta, D-Otsego, was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

The committee also unanimously approved five proposals from Treasurer Allen Ruffles to help address a potential budget crisis. The crisis is projected to harm the county in several ways, including a loss of bed tax and sales tax revenues this summer as the tourism season is harmed or shut down completely by the pandemic. County officials are also worried a supplement to the annual state budget could cut aid to counties by as much as 20 percent, Ruffles said. He said the supplemental state budget is expected Friday, May 1, and a report on March tax revenues after the shutdown began, is due to him Wednesday, May 6.

The remedies to preemptively cut the county’s $119 million budget include: asking department heads to cut their budgets by 5%; instituting a freeze on overtime and non-overtime extra hours for county employees; instituting a spending freeze; instituting a hiring freeze; and applying for a $5 million loan based on a revenue anticipation note.

Ruffles said the 5% budget cuts came directly from department heads and were not suggested by him. He also said the hiring, spending and overtime freezes would come with exceptions. Departments that are vital to fighting the pandemic could be exempted, he said, citing the Sheriff’s Department, E-911 center, Health Department and Department of Social Services as groups that would qualify for continued spending or extra employee hours.

In addition, there will be a process for hiring for budgeted positions that are deemed crucial or legally necessary. Corrections officers and social services case workers are two positions that have come up in recent meetings as needing to be filled.

Ruffles said he does not intend to spend the $5 million loan, but since the application process takes a month or more, he wants to apply for it now rather than wait and apply for it if an emergency need arises. The loan would cost about $115,000 in interest and application fees, he said, but some of the cost would be offset by investing the money in short term certificates of deposit before it has to be paid back in June 2021.

The five budget proposals will have to be approved by the full board at its May meeting.

The committee also agreed to hold off on issuing money for its community grants program. Funded by bed tax revenues, the grants for community events that bring visitors to the county are usually issued at this time of the year. However, many of the events funded by the grants have been canceled for 2020 and more will be if the shutdown continues. Most of the committee members said they still favored issuing the grants, but only if it is possible for tourists to return to the area in the summer or fall.

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